Second Look: ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsThe Story: Most teens would be stoked to spend their senior year in Paris, France. Not Anna. She’s been shipped off to a private school in Europe courtesy of her father who sent her there, well, simply because he could. Completely clueless about French culture and language, poor Anna anticipates a year of misery and homesickness. Fortunately, her next door dorm-neighbor, Meredith, is more than happy to show Anna the ropes and introduce Anna to her group of friends. Unfortunately, Anna seems to be combating feelings for one of those aforementioned friends, Etienne St. Clair. What’s worse, he seems to be rather friendly towards her as well, which definitely could complicate things with his longtime girlfriend. As friendships are strengthened and tested, they learn that just about anything can happen in the city of lights (and love).

The Low Down: Anna and the French Kiss isn’t just some fluffy romance for hormone-fueled teenagers. This is one of the most adorable teen romances I’ve read in ages, but it’s not all hearts and rainbows. This book is very issue-heavy, while still managing to maintain a lighter tone.

Anna is sent to Paris because her Nicholas Sparks-like father just secured yet another movie deal for one of his best selling tragic romance novels. He wants the glory of saying his daughter studies in France, so he feels it’s appropriate to uproot her life for that sole purpose. No one could blame the girl for having daddy issues. Enter Etienne, who also has some serious daddy issues himself. Anna’s father is selfish, but Etienne’s may as well be the devil. There’s definitely some parental conflict as these two try to cope together with their controlling fathers.

Another issue we run across that’s semi-related to the parent issue is how someone’s world can collapse when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. While the story is not primarily about a parent’s cancer battle, it’s a big enough part of the story to be a prime factor in developing some of the characters’ relationships.

There’s a lot of ups and downs among friendships, which is what makes this a terribly realistic teen novel. In the real world, teens don’t meet and see that starry-eyed twinkle and decide to be together forever. In the real world, let’s face it: it’s ugly. There are very real emotions and other relationships involved, and that’s exactly the types of dynamics that are explored in Anna. Anna and Etienne clearly have a friendly attraction, but Etienne has a serious girlfriend. Meredith, who has known Etienne for years, also has a crush on him, and Anna doesn’t want her to know she as feelings for him, too. Anna infuriates Etienne with all her hot/cold attitudes towards him, and he drives her crazy in return with all this “serious girlfriend” business. See? Complicated. But it’s probably as close to real life as you’re going to get. Despite the drama, the story is still funny. The romance is still adorable. The tone is still light and fun.

Lola and the Boy Next DoorIsla and the Happily Ever AfterIn short, I absolutely loved Anna and the French Kiss. I generally try to steer away from romance (because I’m clearly very bitter and cynical), but I liked all the relationships in this story and how they developed over the course of time. Check out the companion novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and the last book in the Anna series (Isla and the Happily Ever After), which will be released in September 2013 and returns to Paris to follow up with two characters previously seen in Anna. Stephanie Perkins’ writing is a delight to read and I can’t wait to see more from her.

The Bottom Line: Anna and the French Kiss is a fun, lighthearted, and realistic romance that artfully portrays the ups and downs of young love, as well as tactfully dealing with family conflicts and tested friendships. Great, easy writing by Perkins makes this a perfect choice for reluctant readers who enjoy romantic stories. Can’t wait to read the two companion novels.

OFFICIAL RATING: 9/10

Advertisements

Second Look: Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face by Paul Acampora

PLOT:
To get a fresh start after his parents’ separation, Zachary Beatrice and his father have just moved to small town Falls, Connecticut. There, he meets Rachel Spinelli, who’s not afraid to haul back and FACEPUNCH! whoever rubs her the wrong way. While Zachary tries to adjust to life after his mother’s absence, he finds himself becoming good friends with Rachel’s brother and maybe even seeing a little more in Rachel than most people do. The story centers around one particular summer which involves blooming friendships, hours of community service, trumpet playing, one very feisty squirrel and, of course, FACEPUNCHES!

CHARACTERS:
Zachary Beatrice is an average 14-year-old kid. He’s dealing with the fallout of his parents’ divorce and adjusting to life in a new town, and he’s doing it remarkably well. Rachel Spinelli is the town toughie with some serious anger issues. She’s not a bully, she’s just overprotective. She’ll fight tooth and nail to protect her brother, Teddy, who (according to Rachel) “needs protecting.” There are also some very amusing townspeople including Zachary’s father, Officer Beatrice, a very pregnant Mrs. Yee, and Mr. and Mrs. Koza who own the local ice cream shop (along with their taxidermified dog Coco, who acts mostly as a doorstop but gets more attention than any taxidermied animal should). They all function together to make up a wacky (but endearing) cast of characters.

EXTRA GOODIES:

  • FACEPUNCHES!

OPINION:
I won’t lie… I broke the cardinal rule of book selection and judged Rachel Spinelli by the cover. Er, well, actually the title. Because… well, my God. How can you NOT want to pick up a book called Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face? That being said, it’s not at all what I was expecting. And I don’t mean that in the most positive way. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good book. Despite some of the silliness that takes place, Rachel Spinelli tackled a lot of tough issues. Parental separation/divorce and the response and fallout that follows, the meaning of a true friendship, and a character with an implied mild mental impairment are all featured. So what didn’t I like about it? Despite being a Young Adult book, it’s definitely for younger readers, maybe a sixth grade reading level. It’s squeaky clean and definitely what I would consider to be children/tween fiction, not teen fiction. I absolutely would recommend this for middle graders, young teens, and it would be a relatively engaging read for reluctant readers. I would have loved this book if I had researched the reading level before diving in. Which is a result of my stupidity and should not be held against the book.

OFFICIAL RATING: 8/10

Second Look: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I'm going to guess the probability is 1,000,000 to 1.

Plot:
Hadley’s day is not going well. She’s on her way to London to be a bridesmaid in a wedding she wants to pretend isn’t even happening. It’s her father’s, and he’s marrying a woman she’s never met. And then her day gets worse: she misses her flight. By four minutes. While Hadley is waiting for the next flight to London, she meets Oliver, a strikingly handsome young man from England. As fate would have it, he happens to be sitting two seats over from her on the flight. Maybe the timing isn’t so bad after all… who knew four little minutes could change your life?

Characters:
Normally I have a hard time liking the characters in these types of stories. The girls are too girly, the guys are too dreamboaty, and all the extra characters are just dull, lifeless filler to build dramatic tension. But this one was different. I liked Hadley. I could sympathize with her, and any girl with daddy issues would be able to identify with Hadley’s anger towards her father and his impending wedding. Oliver was cute, too. Granted, he’s the stereotypical “perfect” guy (he’s cute, funny, and OMG BRITISH! BOYS WITH ACCENTS ARE ALWAYS DESIRABLE AND AWESOME!), but he’s not without his issues, which are revealed later in the story (no spoilers here, promise). To me, those little flaws/issues/drama/whatever you want to call it just make him even more likeable as a character. Oddly, I didn’t hate Hadley’s father, either. I was expecting Sir Douchebag to bless us with his presence, but he actually seemed pretty genuine and I appreciated that.

Extra Goodies:

  • BRITISH GUYS!  Have I mentioned the accents? (Yes, I am aware that when you read the book you can’t actually HEAR the accent, but I can pretend!)
  • The all-important valuable lesson comes through crystal clear. Would you choose family or the hot guy you spent a few hours with? Yea. I’d pick hot guy, too.
  • A conversation comprised entirely of Charles Dickens puns.  

Opinion:
Funnily enough, it wasn’t the romanticalness that I enjoyed the most… it was the tension between Hadley and her father. I’m no daddy’s girl, so I related to Hadley’s hard feelings. And, I’ll admit, at one point I shed a tear or two because some of the conversations hit a little close to home. But I digress. Hopeless romantics everywhere will lurve the budding friendship/relationship and growing tension between Hadley and Oliver, and all the ups and downs that lead us to the ending. My only gripe is that I thought there would be more focus on the romantic relationships. A decent portion of the story centered on Hadley dealing with her daddy drama, and that’s not what I was expecting with this book.

Jennifer E. Smith is a good author. She’s not a great author (yet), but she’s good. With a little more polishing and experience under her belt, she can (and probably will) be a great author. I read The Statistical Probability in one sitting, mainly because it was a quick, relatively easy read (which will be perfect for reluctant readers) and because it was very well paced and I was eager to see it to the end. I liked Smith’s writing and I’ll be excited to see what she can deliver in the future.  I wouldn’t mind a sequel or companion to The Statistical Probability (HINT! HINT!)

OFFICIAL RATING: 7/10